The Perils of Flying with a Sinus Infection

Come prepared or expect to experience excruciating pain when flying with a sinus infection…

Flying with a Sinus Infection - oh the pain!Have you ever flown with a cold? The pain is really intense and quite excruciating, and feels like your ears are going to explode. It also can actually be quite dangerous to fly with sinus issues, with anything from dizziness, blown ear drums, bleeding ears, to hearing loss as some of the potential hazards. When the pressure from flying and a sinus infection occur, the tissues lining the nasal areas swell and close the tiny openings to the ears and sinuses preventing your ability to equalize ear pressure and potentially causing damage (known as Barotrauma damage).

Avoid the Pain – Be Prepared !

And yet here I am again, flying VERY congested (unlike the last time when I had just a teensy bit of congestion and thought that I was going to die for 11 hours straight). As you can imagine, I’m just a teensy bit of apprehensive, but the difference is this time I’ve done some research! I scoured the internet and came up with what seems to be a good strategy.  I will shortly be able to tell you if common internet wisdom prevails, or if I suffered another 11 hours of pain and suffering.

Wish me luck, I board soon!

Recommendations – Preventative Measures

  1. Don’t fly. Really, if you can at all avoid flying and delay your flight – this is your very best option. Airlines do charge a steep fee to change your ticket, but it may very well be worth it.
  2. There is no cure for the common cold! Not even antibiotics can help, but there are some things you can do to help you get better fast (hopefully before takeoff).
    • Rest as much as possible, the body needs adequate rest for its immune system to remain in peak condition.
    • At the first signs of illness try a combination of Zinc lozenges plus Airborne Dual Action (the new formula – get it in chewable form for simplicity).
    • Then blast your system with some Vitamin C at least three times a day > I like Emergency-C. Extra Vitamin C is harmless as you just pee out the extra, just don’t make it a habit otherwise kidney stones can be a rare side effect.
    • If you are already congested, someone suggested Vicks Vapor Rub topped with a little hot sauce and letting that melt your sinuses (and everything else) for a few hours.Flying with a Sinus Infection - steaming
    • In the same vein, try steaming your nasal passages open by draping a cotton towel over your head and then placing your head about 12 inches over a steaming pot and breathing the steam through your nose for 10 minutes.
    • Take 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar 3x daily for the five days leading up to your flight.
    • Drink plenty of water to get that stuff liquefied and out of your sinuses!

Recommendations – Once on board

Flying with a Sinus Infection - Don't sleep at takeoff

  1. Don’t sleep during takeoffs and landings as you want to be able to adjust your self-care as needed rather than wake up with extreme pain when it’s too late to do much.
  2. Stay away from the alcohol, it will just make your jet lag that much worse and doesn’t help your sinus issues.
  3. Take some drugs (after checking with your doctor of course!). At least 30 minutes and up to one hour, take a decongestant or a combination of decongestants (just make sure you look at the ingredients, the key is not to double dose anywhere). Avoid the ingredient Phenylephrine as it simply doesn’t work.
    • SUDAFED (or Actifed)– The active ingredient is Pseudoephedrine and is the number one drug to take, even divers use it. Unfortunately for me it is illegal in the state that I am flying out of…who would have known??? It’s also sometimes a problem for older men and always of course for pregnant women so ask pharmacist.
    • Mucinex – The ingredient is Guaifenisin, a non-drowsy expectorant
    • Nyquil – The ingredient Doxylamine succinate is an Antihistamine, plus if you take the drowsy formula it can help you get some needed rest.
    • Flying with a Sinus Infection - Nose sprayAfrin (maximum congestion) – nasal spray that shrinks sinus tissues in 2 minutes. Potentially added relief if the rest isn’t enough.
    • Check the labels, but if your decongestant doesn’t have something for pain relief bring Ibuprofen, Advil or Motrin for general discomfort.
  4. EarPlanes Ear Plugs – special pressure-relieving earplugs made of silicon to be inserted one hour before ascent and descent. Get the child size if you have small ears.Flying with a Sinus Infection - Earplanes
  5. Some suggest using an eyedropper with olive oil into the ear a couple of times before the flight to relieve the pain and discomfort from takeoff and landing. Sounds like an Italian grandmother’s home remedy… Maybe bring some antipasto also.
  6. Another idea for soothing is to use two plastic cup containing super-hot wet paper napkins and hold them tight over your ears – this comes highly recommended although I have not tried it and you will most definitely look ridiculous. Skip the cups and just use the wet napkins directly on your ears as a less embarrassing alternative.
  7. Chew gum during the ascent and descent
  8. Yawn and swallow during ascent and descent. Yawning and swallowing activate the muscles that open your Eustachian tubes.
  9. Jaw thrusts, really! You just stick out your lower jaw as far as possible, it opens the passages between your inner ear and nose like chewing gum but much more effective. It does look ridiculous though – small price to pay!
  10. Valsalva maneuver – Gently blow, as if blowing your nose, all the while pinching your nose and keeping your mouth shut. Repeat as needed especially during descent to equalize the pressure.

And so…

I tried resting as much as possible, drinking lots of fluids, and taking Zinc + Vitamin C + Airborne but all to no avail. The morning of the flight I was still super congested.

But, this time I had gone to the pharmacy the night before!

Armed with a dose of Mucinex (unfortunately Sudafed in some areas) plus a dose of Nyquil (the drowsy formula in hopes that I could get some shut-eye) and the perfect timing before take-off, I even crammed the EarPlanes tightly into my ears for a 1 – 2 – 3 punch. I wasn’t messing around this time! Chewing gum and Afrin was also at the ready in my purse, my backup if the rest didn’t work…

Flying with a Sinus Infection - Sunset

but it did work!

I added some of the very strange-looking jaw thrusting and a couple of those Valsalva maneuvers to the mix in addition to a lot of gum chewing, but I only felt very mild pain symptoms and just a teensy bit dizzy for a short time upon landing.  What a relief! You CAN fly with a sinus infection.

Have you tried any of these yourself? Let me know if any of this works for you!

Happy (painless) Travels,
-Girl Gone Gallic

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  1 comment for “The Perils of Flying with a Sinus Infection

  1. October 25, 2017 at 9:07 am

    It is terrible flying with a sinus infection! Unfortunately for me, once it’s there, it’s generally there to stay! I did find some wonderful mint essence in Egypt a great decongestant so I’m definitely not getting on another flight without it!

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